University Baptist Student Union
Material Conditions Assessment.
Field Methods | Fall 2016 | Professor Fran Gale
Modernist art in architecture.
The University Baptist Student Union was constructed during the post-World War II period that saw a wave of people going to university courtesy of the GI Bill. With the influx of students at the University of Texas at Austin after the war, many of the churches and faith-based student groups in the surrounding neighborhoods also experienced increasing membership numbers. Built in 1949, this building features the work of two nationally significant Modernist artists - Seymour Fogel and Charles Umlauf. At the time, both Fogel and Umauf were teaching at The University of Texas School of Fine Arts. Although this building has undergone a number of insensitive additions (not visible from primary facade) and alterations (rounded, concrete and aluminum windows), the building is significant as an early example of midcentury modern architecture which integrates public art in Austin, TX. The building was designed by Carlton Brush, a prominent member of the Austin Baptist community and Central Texas AIA chapter, with the help of associate architect, J. Robert Buffler; Buffler, who was an architecture professor at UT Austin, collaborated with Brush on a number of projects in Austin.
Seymour Fogel's mural is thought to be the earliest abstracted mural of its kind in the southwest. Unlike a true fresco, in which pigments are applied to wet substrate, Fogel’s murals are applied dry. Ethyl silicate, which is commonly used in materials conservation practice as a consolidant, was mixed with marble dust, pigment, and enough water to create a gel that could be applied to the wall. This innovative use of ethyl silicate promised to be “impervious to atmospheric damage” and to retain “brilliant”colors. The ethyl silicate becomes very hard and dries quickly, which lead to the idealist notion that the murals would be “indestructible.” Fogel reflected on working with ethyl silicate, “You make a mistake and you can’t erase and start over. You have to chisel a piece of the wall out and fill it in with more marble dust.”
Charles Umlauf began the sculpture, Prayer, in his studio in 1948; the piece, which is ten feet high and nine feet wide, monopolized about half of his studio space. Umlauf first modeled the sculpture in clay, then molded it in plaster, then cast it in terra cotta; finally, the bricks are cut and fired. A simple line graphic of the relief was used as a logo for the University Baptist News; one issue of the newsletter explains the meaning of the design, “It depicts the basic article in our Baptist belief—the authority and power of the Scriptures. At the bottom is an open Bible, the Old and New Testaments. Above it are two young people. Lines flowing from the Bible and passing through and above these youths picture the inspiring power of the Word of God, and the closed circle of hands above them portrays completion and perfection, both of which are the work of the Word of God.”